Until this day, there are religious sects who oppose the intervention of medical therapy in situations of divinely afflicted illness. Most notable amongst present day subscribers to this view are the followers of 'Christian Science' founded by Mary E Baker (1821-1910) in the USA. In the view of such religions, the words in Parshat Beshallach (15:26): 'For I am the L-d your healer' are to be taken most literally, as a declaration that any attempt on behalf of a doctor to remove illness from where G-d has inflicted it, is an unwelcome intrusion into G-d's domain.
Normative Judaism has encouraged recourse to medicine and its practioners. Commenting on the verse in Parshat Mishpatim (21:19) - 'As he shall cause him to be healed' - the Talmud (Bava Kamma 85a) declares that this verse provides the sanction for doctors to heal.
Why the need for a sanction? Rashi explains that were it not for the permission granted in this verse, one may have opined that human intervention to alleviate sickness is tantamount to an attempt to override the decree of G-d. Therefore, Scripture had to give the 'go ahead' for what may have been perceived as a 'heretical' practice. Furthermore, the Talmud (Nedarim 41b) teaches us that not only is it 'permissible' for a doctor to practise medicine, it is a mitzvah - a religious duty. In the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 336:1) a doctor who fails to provide medical help in life threatening situations is compared to a murderer.
Yet, given all the Scriptural and Talmudic references, how do we overcome the theological problem? Why should we elicit the help of a mere mortal - however many qualifications he or she may have - rather than turn to the Creator, the source of illness and cure? This problem is directly confronted in the following Midrash, which draws an analogy between medical practice and other forms of human action - in the face of conditions produced by G-d:
Rabbi Ishmael and Rabbi Akiva were strolling in the streets of Jerusalem accompanied by another person. Someone sick met them and said: 'My masters, tell me by what means I may be healed.' They told him: 'Do thus and you will be healed.' He asked them: 'And who afflicted me?' They replied: 'The Holy One, blessed be He'. The sick person responded: 'You intrude in a realm which is not yours; He has afflicted and you heal! Are you not transgressing His will?'
They asked him: 'What is your occupation?' He answered: 'I am a worker of the land and here is the sickle in my hand.' They asked him: 'Who created the orchard?' He answered: 'The Holy One, blessed be He.' Said they: 'You too intrude in a realm which is not yours. G-d created it and you are cutting its fruit!' He said to them: 'Do you not see the sickle in my hand? If I did not plough, sow, fertilise and weed it, nothing would grow.' They said to him: 'Oh, you fool! Does your occupation not teach you this, as Scripture says, 'as for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourishes' (Psalms 103:15). Just as a tree, without weeding, fertilising and ploughing will not grow; and even if it grows, then without irrigation and fertilising it will not live but will surely die - so it is with regard to the body. Drugs and medical procedures are the fertiliser, and the physician is the tiller of the soil.'
Shabbat in Practice
COVERING THE CHALLOT
By Rabbi Daniel Roselaar, Belmont United Synagogue
Whilst kiddush is recited the challot should be covered. There are two explanations for this practice: Several authorities cite the Talmud Yerushalmi to the effect that they must be covered in order "not to shame them." This refers to the rules of precedence that govern brachot for food. Normally, the brachah for foods made out of grain (hamotzi/mezonot) should precede the brachah for wine (hagafen). Since the order is reversed at the Shabbat table - because kiddush must precede the Shabbat meal - the challot are covered so that this disregard for the normal order of precedence is not so blatantly obvious. Alternatively, the Abudraham suggests that they are covered so as to resemble the manna, which was covered by dew when it fell in the wilderness (and according to some sources a cloth should also be placed underneath the challot, since the manna was sandwiched between two layers of dew).
There are several different halachic implications that depend upon which of the above explanations is accepted as authoritative. If no wine is available and kiddush is recited over the challot, they would need to be covered only according to the second explanation. Likewise, at Seudah Shlishit, which is not preceded by kiddush, they would also need to be covered only according to the second explanation. Conversely, if cakes and biscuits are being served at Shabbat morning kiddush instead of a full meal, the first explanation would require such foods to be covered whilst kiddush is being recited. Furthermore, according to the first explanation an opaque challah-cover must be used, whereas according to the second explanation a transparent cover might suffice.
Interestingly, the Shulchan Aruch (Rama 242:1) mentions a further custom that commemorates the manna: to eat bourekkas on Friday night, since the filling is covered by pastry above and below, like the manna which was protected by dew above and beneath it.
Hameforshim - The Commentators
Rabbi Dr Michael Harris, Hampstead Synagogue.
Rabbi Chizkiyah Chizkuni
Rabbi Chizkiyah ben Manoach Chizkuni lived in Provence around the year 1250, but beyond this almost nothing is known about his personal life. His commentary on the Torah, Chizkuni, was originally published in Venice in 1524. It has been reprinted many times and appears in some editions of the Chumash.
Rabbi Chizkiyah writes that his commentary is based on twenty earlier sources, but he very rarely quotes these sources, with the exception of Rashi, whom he cites often. In fact, Chizkuni often elaborates on Rashi's explanations and is considered the earliest of the many supercommentaries on Rashi.
Chizkuni focuses on elucidating the peshat, the straightforward meaning of the text of the Torah. The commentary often adopts the interpretations of two expositors discussed previously in this series, Ibn Ezra and Rashbam, who share Chizkuni's concern with the peshat.
IT HAPPENED TODAY
by Rabbi Yisroel Fine, Cockfosters & N.Southgate Synagogue
It was on this day, corresponding to February 2nd 1931 that the first Siyum (conclusion) of the Talmud was celebrated by Daf Yomi students throughout the world.
The brainchild of the legendary Lublin Rosh Yeshiva. Rabbi Meir Shapiro, the study of one folio (Daf) a day for 2702 days of disciplined study, would enable the Torah scholar and layman alike to achieve a lifetime's dream - that of completing Shas (The Babylonian Talmud).
But not even the great visionary that he was would have prepared Rabbi Shapiro for the sheer scale of the Daf Yomi success story. By the time the Talmud was completed for the second time in 1938, it was estimated that over a million Jews were studying the Talmud in accordance with the Daf Yomi system. The concept was not just to bring Torah to the masses, but to unify the Jewish people.
Today, Daf Yomi is studied by hundreds and thousands of Jews worldwide, Jews of every walk of life rise early before work, or refresh their minds following a hard day in the office, studying at a Shiur, through the internet, or even by telephone.
In November 1997 the last Siyum was marked by gatherings at Madison Square Gardens, New York, at Binyanei Haumah, Jerusalem, the Picketts Lock Centre, London and at venues throughout the Jewish world.
It was the goal of the Nazis not only to annihilate the Jews of Europe, but to destroy Jewish culture and above all else, the Talmud, because they understood that this was the key to Jewish continuity.
In its eighty years of existence, Daf Yomi has become the most powerful demonstration of the eternity of Torah, and of Israel as the Torah Nation.
OFF THE BEATEN TRACK IN ISRAEL
by Simon Goulden Agency for Jewish Education
A touch of German town planning - Emek Refaim, Jerusalem
Walking down Rechov Emek Refaim in Jerusalem and marvelling at the range of cafes and restaurants in what is now 'Jerusalem's Hampstead', you could easily miss a piece of fascinating history. The 'German Colony' was the only settlement actually built by those named - the American Colony rented existing buildings.
It was built in 1873 by German Templars, a breakaway Lutheran sect, whose motto was "Emigrate from Babylon to settle in Palestine" and they actually started a number of settlements in the country. It was built to the traditional 'Strassendorf' system of a main road and grid of smaller streets at right angles off it. How different to the rest of Jerusalem! The buildings copied typical German architecture with some oriental additions. The currently empty Israel Fibre Institute was the 'lyceum', where students, including a few Jews, studied for the German matriculation. You can still see the clock which summoned the students to class. Templar children were sent here from their six other settlements in Palestine and they all lived in Pension Nickolai Schmidt, just along the road. Schmidt called himself "Herr Burgermeister", a rather grand title for such a small town. Throughout the street you can still see Gothic Biblical inscriptions, such as at number 16, proving the Templar's religious links.
But what happened to the Templars, especially during the Mandate and the Second World War? What was their attitude to the rise of nazism? And where are they now? That, I am afraid, will have to wait for another series.
Rechov Emek Refaim runs south from its junction with Derech Bet Lechem for about 3/4 mile.
RIDDLE OF THE WEEK
by Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis
Last week's questions:
1. What connection is there between a funeral and a Siyum to celebrate the conclusion of the study of a Tractate of Talmud?
These are the only occasions at which the longest form of Kaddish is recited.
2) EXTRA CHALLENGE set by Dr Martin Whitefield of Finchley.
Where is there a reference to the Rambam in the Torah in mnemonic form? What is the connection between the Rambam and this text? [the answer is in Revii of the Sidra of Bo].
Shemot 11:9 "Rabot Mofsai Be'eretz Mitzraim" - "that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt".
The initial letters of each Hebrew word spell out RaMBaM
The Rambam, who lived for part of his life in Egypt, was known as the wonder worker of Egypt, thanks to his skills as a physician. 24:19)
This week's question:
1. Explain: This year we had half on six and whole on two.
2) EXTRA CHALLENGE
Unknown to many, Miriam, who is featured in today's Sidra of Beshallach, had six names.
How many of them do you know?
[One of her other names is mentioned in the Torah and one is the name of a recently-developed and growing city just south of Jerusalem.]
6 -PROJECT GENESIS
The Jewish Learning Network Email: firstname.lastname@example.org URL: http://www.torah.org/
A). PG LIFELINE:
B). RAV FRAND:
G-d Rules Even In A Period In Which We Fail To See It
The pasuk [verse] at the end of the Shirah [The song of thanks that the nation sang after crossing the Reed Sea] says, "Hashem will reign for all eternity" [Shmos 15:18]. There is an interesting Targum Onkelus on this pasuk. The Targum interprets the verb "Yimloch" (which we ordinarily translate as future tense -- "will reign") as "his Kingship is in existence" (malchusei kaim). It is not a statement about the future -- according to Onkelus -- it is a statement about the present.
Rav Simcha Zissel Brody -- the Rosh Yeshiva of the Chevron Yeshiva -- explains a prayer that is recited daily (just before the Morning Shemoneh Esrei, Silent Prayer) based on this statement of the Targum: "With a new song the redeemed ones praised Your Name at the seashore, all of them in unison gave thanks, acknowledged Your sovereignty and said "Hashem Yimloch l'olam Va'ed" (our above-referenced pasuk). Why does our liturgy refer to this song of praise at the Reed Sea as a "new song"?
A different pasuk says about the Egyptians, "Deep waters covered them, they descended in the depths like stone (k'even)" [Shmos 15:5]. Rashi points out that we are taught elsewhere that the Egyptians sank like lead (tzalalu k'oferes) [15:10], and in still a third place that they were consumed like straw (yochleimo k'kash) [15:7]. Lead is a very heavy metal; it sinks more quickly than stone. Straw is a light material; it first floats on top and then sinks slowly. So these three verses apparently contradict each other.
Rashi explains that the pasukim [verses] are describing the fate of three different types of Egyptians. Some drowned slowly like straw. Others drowned more quickly, sinking like stone. Still others drowned almost immediately, sinking like lead. The slower the death, the more torture and pain were involved in the process. These three types of drowning deaths represented three different levels of wickedness found amongst the Egyptians. Their deaths corresponded with the way they treated the Jews during their slavery experience in Egypt.
We learn the following lesson from this Rashi. Even though during the Egyptian bondage it appeared to all the Jews that G-d had forsaken them, that was never so. Even in the period when G-d hid His Face (Hester Panim), He was still paying very close attention. He never forsakes His people, even in the time of their worst suffering. Even then, as it were, He sits in Heaven and 'keeps score'. He remembers which Egyptians were horrible to the Jews, which were decent to them, and which were good to them. Although it may sometimes appear otherwise, G-d never abandons us. G-d is always very much interested in what happens to the Jewish people.
Rav Simcha Zissel explains that the insight of this Rashi is the same as the interpretation of the Targum Onkelus mentioned earlier: When the Jews looked back after crossing the Reed Sea and they saw the Egyptians drowning -- some in a more painful fashion and some in a less painful fashion -- they suddenly 'got it'. They understood that Divine Justice was being administered. They understood that G-d was very much aware and very much in charge even in the darkest days of Egyptian bondage.
Therefore, they were able to express a new level of insight into their song (shirah chadasha). Usually we think of song as praise for the 'nice' things that G-d has done for us. However, the 'new' song was not only for the salvation, it involved praise to G-d that even in the worst times of enslavement, He was still caring about us. This praise was articulated by the words "Hashem Yimloch L'Olam Va'Ed". As Unkelus says, this does not mean G-d WILL rule forever. It means that right now in the present -- as bleak as the situation may seem -- G-d's Kingship is still ruling his world.
We think that while we are in Exile, the Divine Presence is hidden from us. The simple reading of our prayer is that we have confidence that in the future, G-d will rule and everyone will recognize His presence. The Targum is explaining the opposite insight into the prayer. Even now, we are firmly convinced that G-d is ruling and 'keeping intimate score' regarding all that happens.
A related insight can be drawn from an incident that occurred later in the Parsha. The pasuk says, "And they came to Marah and they could not drink water from Marah because they were bitter, therefore they called the name of the place Marah (from the word 'mar' -- bitter)" [Shmos 15:23] The people complained that they had nothing to drink. Moshe solved the problem.
Then they traveled to Elim. In Elim they found twelve springs of water and seventy date palms and they camped there by the water. The Ibn Ezra says that they spent one day in Marah and 21 days in Elim. This can be comparable to going on a trip, where the accommodations are terrible at the first stop, while just down the road is a paradise. We are bound by time and space and literally do not know what is down the road or around the corner from us. Had they known that they were only going to be in Marah for one day and that down the road was a beautiful resting place where they would stay for an extended period of time, then their attitude would not have been the same. But part of the human condition is the inability to see beyond our noses.
So many times in life, when we experience hard times, the situation improves literally overnight and all returns to normal. But while we are in our current state of mind, a situation can appear darker than dark. The Jews in Egypt felt forsaken and abandoned. "G-d doesn't care. G-d died in Auschwitz." For those people who suffered during World War II, it was not one day of suffering. It was not three weeks. It was many hard years. Certainly, that was also the case for the generations who suffered in Egypt. The natural inclination is to say "we are abandoned."
But the Song by the Sea, as well as the story of Marah and Elim, remind us that sometimes the salvation is just down the road. There are situations in life are very difficult. But the salvation of G-d can come in the blink of an eye. Elim and Marah teach us that things can literally turn around on a dime.
Amalek arrived and battled Israel at Refidim. Moshe said to Yehoshua: "choose men for us and go out to fight Amalek, for tomorrow I will stand at the top of the hill with the staff of the Lord in my hand". Yehoshua did just as Moshe had told him (and chose men) to fight against Amalek, while Moshe, Aharon and Chur ascended to the top of the hill. When Moshe raised his hand then Israel would prevail, but when he put down his hand then Amalek would prevail. But Moshe's arms became heavy, so they took a rock and placed it underneath him and he sat upon it. Aharon and Chur supported his arms, one on each side, so that his hands remained steadfast until the setting of the sun. Yehoshua overpowered Amalek and its people by the sword.
God said to Moshe: "Record this as a memorial in the book and recount it clearly to Yehoshua, for I will surely blot out the memory of Amalek from underneath the heavens!" Moshe built an altar and called its name 'God is my banner', for he said: "a hand is upon the throne of God, a war for God against Amalek for all generations!" (Shemot 17:8-16)
THE EVENTS OF PARASHAT BESHALACH
So concludes Parashat BeShalach, perhaps the most stirring section in all of Sefer Shemot. Narrated in its brief span of one hundred and fifteen verses is the account of how the people of Israel brashly but hesitantly journeyed forth from bondage, but were soon pursued and then trapped by Pharaoh's seasoned and bloodthirsty cavalry as they placidly and obliviously encamped at the shores of the Sea of Reeds (14:9). Suddenly Israel's proud resolve melted away as their short-lived freedom now seemed to them a cruel illusion, a heartless deception perpetrated by a God with a penchant for inflicting torment. Moshe, himself unsure of God's intent but utterly certain nevertheless of His salvation, attempted to buoy their broken spirits, as God's fiery angels took up defensive positions around the Israelite camp and the eastern winds began to boldly blow (14:21). As the night gloom ominously fell, the waters of the Sea suddenly parted and Israel was offered a stark and overwhelming choice: either to follow God's guidance and descend into the dark and threatening depths or else to remain behind to be cut to pieces by Pharaoh's charioteers. Wisely, Israel chose the former, but now Egypt pursued them into the midst of the churning waters. But with the rising dawn, Pharaoh's forces were thrown into discomfiture, for the chariot wheels were hopelessly locked in the thick mud of the returning tides. As the blood-red sun rose over the azure surface of the sea, the dead Egyptian host aimlessly bobbed upon its crests as Moshe triumphantly led the people in a victory song to God (15:1).
Once again, though, the people's elation was short- lived, for now they entered the foreboding wilderness of Shur and could find no water to drink (15:22). Miraculously preserved from thirst by Moshe's prayer and Divinely- directed intervention, the people then journeyed on to enjoy a brief respite at the oasis of Eilim but then entered the vast wasteland of Seen and now hungered mightily (16:1). Again, God assuaged their desperate discomfort, this time by providing them with the extraordinary manna to eat. Scarcely a single month had elapsed from the time that the people had left the brick pits of Egypt, but in that short span they had already acquired a lifetime of experience! Soon, Israel journeyed to Refidim, as they slowly made their way in the direction of Sinai, but once again they were plagued with thirst (17:1). This time, Moshe struck the rock at God's behest, and the people's thirst was quenched. Then, quite unexpectedly, Israel was attacked by the marauding tribe of Amalek, in the final and desperate close to this most riveting section of the Torah. Only through the heroic efforts of Yehoshua and the otherworldly intervention afforded by Moshe's outstretched arms was Israel victorious over the foe.
Considering the matter of the Parasha in its entirety, we may summarize by observing that every one of the Parasha's events presents us with a striking and unsettling contrast of emotional states, an exultant euphoria now abruptly punctured by a paralyzing dread, a sanguine and hopeful anticipation now dashed to pieces by some unforeseen and overwhelming menace. How ephemeral are the moments of equilibrium, how brief and short-lived! And linking together these otherwise disparate events, like some tenuous and delicate thread, is the Parasha's recurring refrain: trust in God and be preserved; abandon that trust and perish.
Perhaps the hardships encountered at Yam Suf and Shur, the wilderness of Seen and Refidim, were to impress upon the nascent nation what sorts of challenges would surely lie ahead along the long path towards achieving the national goal. In order to securely establish their state in Canaan, at that time only a distant dream, the people of Israel would have to overcome deprivation and scarcity, setback and adversity, and no shortage of hostile enemies lurking in the shadows. But by trusting in God and following His commands, admittedly no small expectations from a people just recently freed from bondage of the body and still conditioned to subjugation of the spirit, Israel could succeed.
The brief finale of the Parasha is, however, exceptionally obscure. We are not told why Amalek attacks the people of Israel, we are left to our own devices to ponder the nature of Moshe's unusual stratagem of outstretched arms, we are introduced for the first and penultimate to an otherwise unknown character by the name of Chur, and we are certainly taken aback by God's unusually harsh pronouncement against the routed foe. Fortunately, some light is shed on the matter by the brief parallel passage in the Book of Devarim that contains God's directive to the new generation poised to enter the land to always remember Amalek's diabolism:
Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you left the land of Egypt. They encountered you upon the way and attacked all of the stragglers at the rear (of the camp) while you were weary and exhausted, and they did not fear the Lord. Therefore, when God your Lord grants you respite from all of your foes roundabout, in the land that God your Lord gives to you as an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens. Never forget! (Devarim 25:17-19).
This much is clear from the above passage: Amalek's attack was not only unprovoked, it was also most dastardly focused upon those members of the Israelite camp least able to defend themselves. Those that tarried at the back of the camp, unable to keep up because of infirmity or age, were cut down and killed. Like the modern-day terrorists that are their spiritual descendents, Amalek struck the weak and the feeble, the children and the old, choosing a moment when the people of Israel were drained from their wilderness journey and disillusioned by its ordeals.